Manna and Quail
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Exodus chapter 16. In Exodus 16, we are barely a month out of Egypt and into the wilderness, and already the people have undergone a severe test. There has been a great provision for them by God; there has been a great victory at the sea. The people have already grumbled at the lack of water and they have had it miraculously provided by the Lord. Now, in the passages that we will read tonight, they have moved out or will move from that oasis experience where God provided for them the water that they needed and soon they will be in another difficulty, another test is on it's way as they move out into the desert. So, let's turn to God's word in Exodus 16 and we’ll read verses 1 through 21.
Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. “And it will come about on the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, “At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.’” And it came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. Then the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake — like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel say it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. “This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” And the sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. And they gathered it morning by morning every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy and inspired word, may He add His blessing to it.
Our Father, we thank you for Your word. Teach us by it we pray, humble our own hearts and our distrust of Your own provision. Teach us to believe, to rest, to trust in Your wisdom, Your guidance, Your generosity, Your purposes for our lives. These are standing challenges for us even as they were for your people of old. So, by Your word instruct our hearts by the Spirit in Jesus name. Amen.
This is a familiar passage; it's a passage that is commented on later in the books of Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 8. Moses will look back on the incident of God's provision of manna in the wilderness and he will interpret for the children of Israel just what God was doing there. We’ll look at that passage later, but it's not only referred to later in the Old Testament, such as in the Psalms, it's also referred to in the New Testament, and again, we’ll come to that later.
The thing that I want you to see in this passage is that the Lord takes a situation of difficulty and an attitude of complaint and He uses it as an opportunity for discipleship. This is a genuinely difficult situation. Just like we said when the children of Israel arrived at Marah and there was no water, there was a genuine concern on the part of the people. They had every right to be concerned about the gravity of their situation. Without water in those days, without any supplies of water for any immediate period of the future, their children especially, and the weak were extremely vulnerable to the rigors of desert life. No wonder the people were concerned. Here, they face a depravation of food; it's a real crisis situation. God hears this situation of difficulty and their attitude of complaint and here is where they go wrong.
In this passage, even more clearly than in the passage about Marah, the grumbling of the children of Israel is clearly indicated to be against the Lord. It may have been verbally expressed against Moses and Aaron, but over and over God and Moses interpret this complaint to be a theological problem, or to put it this way, to be a spiritual problem reflected in the hearts of the people of God. Their grumbling was against Him. Their complaining was against Him. They were questioning God's ability to provide. So, God takes this situation of real difficulty and this sinful attitude for complaint and He turns it into an opportunity for discipleship. That's what this passage is about.
We’ll look at it in four parts tonight. Verses 1 through 3 give us the complaint of Israel. Verses 4 and 5 give us the gracious response of God to that complaint. Verses 6 through 10 record for us how Moses and Aaron passed on God's instructions and His words of promise to the people and verses 11 through 21 show how God fulfilled the promises that He made. We’ll look then at the passage in those four parts. Let's begin first in verses 1 through 3.
I. The complaint of the children of Israel.
There we see this bitter complaint of the children of Israel. I want you to understand again that Israel's grumbling against her leaders was really a distrust of God's providence and wisdom. They are questioning whether God will provide for them what they need, and they are questioning the wisdom of being brought out into the wilderness, the wilderness of Sin. There is actually no theological significance to that name. The name may linguistically be like Sinai, like maybe the wilderness of Sinai, something like that. The terminology is similar; it's different from the wilderness of Zen, which you will hear about later in the Old Testament. The wilderness of Zen is about two hundred miles north. So, Sin and Zen are different Hebrew words and begin with different Hebrew letters.
At any rate, it's the fifteenth of the second month, and that means that the children of Israel have been out of Egypt for exactly six weeks and already the problems are developing. It has not taken them long to develop their grumbling. In verse 2, Moses points out that it is not an isolated incident of grumbling that he is referring to. You remember back at Mara in chapter 15, we're told that the people grumbled. Here, Moses uses a more comprehensive phrase. Look at the language, “the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled.” In other words, Moses is saying this is full-blown rebellion. Everybody was grumbling about this. This isn't just ten percent of the congregation causing a pretty big hullabaloo. This is the whole congregation; there is a pervasive and comprehensive grumbling against Moses and Aaron. All of the people have been captured by this attitude of discontent. After all, as we've said, the complaint is grounded in a reality. There is a reality that the people are running out of provisions and they have no idea where those provisions for food are going to come from and that prompts them to doubt God's provision and God's wisdom.
We’re told in verse 3 that the complaints are directed against Moses and Aaron, and suddenly the hard life of a slave in Egypt becomes idealized, and it looks sweet and plentiful. They describe it in the most extravagant ways. There is actually a passage in Numbers where they go even further, but the people are complaining about not having enough food and not having meat, and they begin to imagine this life where they just had all the meat they wanted anytime. Why, they just practically lived next to the stewpot in Egypt. They just had all the bread they wanted. They could eat bread until they were fat, that is, at least in their memory.
Furthermore, not only did they complain about not having enough food and not having meat, they also imputed the worse sort of motives to Moses, “you've brought us out here to kill us. We could have died a natural death in the land of Egypt. We could have lived to a grand old age and slipped away in our sleep one night in Egypt so good was the life, but you've brought us out here tonight.” Or perhaps they are speaking of the worst possible results of Moses and Aaron's leadership of the people into the desert. So, once again the fears of the people of God are legitimate and their circumstances are truly hard, but their heart attitude is wrong. The rejection of Moses and Aaron, as it will be clear from the rest of the passage, is not just a rejection of their leaders, it's a rejection of God, and it's calling into question God's providence and wisdom.
So, there is the setting. The people are explicitly calling into question God's providence and wisdom and God says this would be a great time for the people to learn about My providence and wisdom.
Now, that's not how I would have planned it folks. Let's see, “I’ll get the congregation mad at me about X then I’ll teach them about X.” That's not the normal plan that ministers like to take, but that's what God does here. The people are grumbling about these very things. They are calling into question God's truthfulness and His wisdom and His provision and He says, “Think I’ll teach them about My truthfulness, wisdom and provision.” Look what He does. Once again, just like at Mara, before they pray and without any punishment God appears and speaks to Moses and Aaron in verses 4 and 5, and there is not a word of rebuke. You've had this complaint in verses 1 through 3, and in verses 4 and 5 you get this divine gracious response to the peoples’ complaints
II. God's gracious response.
In verses 4 and 5 you get this divine gracious response to the peoples’ complaints. God shows His gracious patience with the people by responding kindly and generously with the promise of daily bread. In verse 4, the Lord, despite their bad attitude and failing faith responds with kindness and generosity. He announces to Moses that He plans to rain bread on the people. Notice that God's plan in the wilderness will be to disciple them in His providence by providing daily bread. He’ll teach them day after day to trust His providence by day after day raining on them this bread. So, here is His plan.
Notice as well, in verse 4 that the Lord indicates He will test the people even in this provision. So the rest of the story seems to mean, “Will they obey Him in terms of the specific instructions of A, collecting only what they need for that day, and B, not collecting on the Sabbath day?” You’ll see the significance of that in a moment. The story of this provision of bread, this daily provision of bread, may well be the origin of Jesus' reference in the Lord's prayer, to “give us this day, our daily bread,” or “give us what we need for today,” or “teach us to trust in your providence day after day providing what we need.”
You see what God is doing here in verses 4 and 5? He's promising two things, food and rest. Notice what He does. He establishes a plan to address the heart attitude of Israel and their situation. He's going to provide for their material needs, and their spiritual needs every day. So, here's how it goes: six days a week, three hundred and twelve or so days a year, for forty years, He's going to give them bread. Six days a week, three hundred and twelve or so days a year, for forty years, He is going to give them bread. He is going to supply their material need, and one day a week, fifty-two or so days a year, forever, He is going to supply their spiritual need, rest, and time with Him. He provides food and rest and in this He begins a plan of discipleship. He provides what they need materially and spiritually.
III. Moses and Aaron instruct the people.
Then, in verses 6 though 10, Moses and Aaron take this message from God and they pass it on. The divine word is passed on in verses 6 though 10 and God, in the words of Moses and Aaron to the people, is going to teach them that man can not live by bread alone. That will be the great lesson of this incident.
In verse 6, Moses and Aaron pass along the Lord's message to the people, and in their initial comments, they even state what is the goal of the Lord's discipleship. Look at verse 6 at the end of the verse. God wants His people to know that He is the one who brought them out of Egypt. He wants them to have a dynamic, experimental knowledge of Him and the provision of daily food is designed to serve that purpose. At evening when they have gathered, they will know that I am the Lord who has brought you out of Egypt. God will display His provision for His people; He will display His glory in His provision for His people.
I want you to see in verse 7 that this reference to the glory of the Lord is the first biblical appearance of that phrase. It is a phrase of tremendous significance and Moses makes it clear that in revealing His glory, God is revealing His essential nature and character in His actions in providing for His people. Moses also makes clear in verse 7 that the people are ultimately grumbling against the Lord when they grumble against him and against Aaron.
In verse 8 it is specifically announced that the Lord will give both meat and bread, and again it's reiterated that the Lord has heard their grumbling.
In verse 9 the children of Israel are called to draw near, and for the third time it is emphasized that the Lord has heard their grumblings. You know, this is kind of like an offended mother talking to an ungrateful child who has announced he doesn't like her cooking. “Well, since you don't like my cooking you may go to your room, and since you do not like my cooking, you may do your homework for the rest of the night and you may not watch T.V. Since you do not like my cooking, there will nothing for you on your plate tomorrow morning when breakfast comes,” and it just goes on. The point is being reiterated. But the Lord is also reiterating this so that when His provision comes, they will know it's no accident. No coincidence here that the food just shows up tomorrow. It's because the Lord heard the complaint, and because of this, He provides.
Furthermore, in verse 10, He manifests Himself; He manifests His glory in the cloud. As God provides for Israel's need with bread and rest, with bread and the Sabbath, He also shows to them their need of Him. He also manifests Himself to them in His manifestation of glory in the cloud. He's teaching them that “What you need is not just ultimately bread, you need Me. I provide the bread, it's from My hand that the bread comes,” and I'm not spiritualizing. You can say, “Oh you’re spiritualizing that passage.” Moses tells you this. Turn to Deuteronomy 8, Moses tells this to you twice in Deuteronomy 8, but we’ll just look at one verse. In Deuteronomy 8:3, he says this, “He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” You see, it's not just Jesus who made that comment on the manna in the midst of The Temptation. Jesus is quoting Moses from Deuteronomy 8 when He confronts Satan who is tempting Him to make bread in order to provide for Himself in the wilderness. Even Jesus in the wilderness determines to rely upon the provision of the Lord rather than seeking it by His own means, thus showing His trust in the Lord and illustrating this principle: the Lord provides. That is the discipleship God is going to bring the children of Israel along in. It's not just they need food and the food shows up, it's that God is the provider of that food.
IV. God fulfills His promises.
Finally in verses 11 through 21, we see the way this is all fulfilled, the way this is all laid out for us. The divine promise is fulfilled and the details are given and we see that God's providence is learned by the children of Israel through a daily, re-enacted dependence upon Him.
Notice again in verses 11 and 12, especially verse 12, the Lord again directly says that He has heard the people's grumbling, and that those grumblings are against Him. So, the provision that is made is shown to be providential, not coincidental, and the danger of the people's grumbling is highlighted.
You know, it's dawning on you now that it's really not a real bright thing to do to grumble against the Lord and question His providence and His wisdom. As this phrase is repeated over and over, just like the teenager realized, “Oops, I think I probably did not say the right thing to mom after she repeated that phrases about five times.” So also the children of Israel are saying, “Hey, mark this one down, ‘don't grumble against the Lord, not a bright idea.’” So the repetition of the phrase not only serves to show God's provision, but also to show the danger of grumbling against the Lord. Their grumbling was not lost on God. He repeats it several times just to make sure the understood that they had not missed it.
Then in verses 13 and 14, the miraculous provision is recorded, meat and bread for the people. The bread is described, and there is no naturalistic explanation for this what so ever. There have been scholars over the years that have come up with the strangest explanations of how this was some sort of a sap from a bush that is found. There is no way any of that supplies the qualities and the characteristics that are described about this particular bread in the book of Moses. Any rate, when the people see it, there is a tremendously funny scene. In verse 15, the children of Israel look at it and they say to one another, “What is it?” That becomes its name, manna, what is it? That's what they call it. You know, later it will get exalted names, the bread of Heaven, the bread of God, the bread provided, but right now the name is, what is it?
The children of Israel don't even recognize the Lord's provision, so in the second half of verse 15, Moses has to tell them, this is the Lord's provision for them. Then he instructs then to take it, take what they need and gather it by small bowlfuls, gather it per person per tent.
In verses 17 and 18, we're told that God has fulfilled His promise. They had everything that they needed, not more, not less, but exactly what they needed. The people had what they needed by His hand.
In verses 19 and 20, Moses tells them only to take a daily supply. This is the first part of the test that the Lord had mentioned when He first spoke to Moses back in verses 4 and 5. Some disregard this particular command and they find out that the food becomes maggot infested if they leave it over night. They must obey the Lord and trust in Him for daily bread. The provision comes from God, but it must be collected in accordance with His word. What better way to teach that “man doesn't live by manna alone, but by every word that precedes out of the mouth of God.” You've even got to collect the manna according to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So, the Lord is disciplining them, teaching them His wisdom and His providence in a daily provision of bread.
Oh course, this story has a greater significance doesn't it. Turn with me in your Bibles to John 6. I'd like to show you a passage in which Jesus had a very interesting exchange with some Jewish people in His own day. In John chapter 6 verse 26, Jesus is talking to a group of people who have become interested in His ministry because they saw Him feed five thousand people. Now, Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is probably explicitly intended by the Lord Jesus Christ to indicate that He is God in the flesh providing for the needs of His people, and so these people begin to question Him about it.
Let's look at the exchange. Jesus realizes that they are really more interested in Him because of this miracle. He says to them in John 6:26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man shall give to you. For on Him, the Father, even God has set His seal.”
Now, they ignore this and they immediately go back to this miracle that He's done, and in verse 28 they say, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” They want to be able to do miracles like He has just done. He says, “This is the work of God; that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” You want to do the works of God, trust in Me. That's what you do. Trust in Me, you put your faith in Me as the Messiah.
They respond to Him again, verse 30, “What then do You do for a sign that we may see and believe You? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of Heaven to eat.’” So, they say, “Look, if you want us to believe in You as Messiah, You’re gonna have to come up with a sign, because after all, our Father gave the sign of the bread of heaven in the wilderness that He was the one who provided for us. So, what are you gonna do?”
That was not the right thing to say to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, here is His response, “Truly, truly I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.”
Of course that is precisely Moses’ own interpretation of Exodus chapter 16. Moses himself, in Deuteronomy 8 makes it clear that Exodus 16 is about God providing for our needs. Jesus isn't just coming up with some twisted interpretation. He's coming up with precisely the interpretation that Moses himself had given to that incident, and He goes on to say, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and which gives life to the world.” So, they say to Him in verse34, “Lord, give us that bread.” Then comes the thunder bolt: “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is saying, “I am.” Remember that from somewhere before? I am. I am that bread. I am something greater than the manna in the wilderness. I am the bread of God, and he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, in other words, he who trusts in Me, he who places his faith in My broken body and My shed blood, he shall have life for evermore.
That is the greater lesson taught by God in His discipleship to His people as He shows them His wisdom and provision, for in Him He has supplied all our needs. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, you have provided the bread of Heaven. Not just something temporal and miraculous for Your people in the wilderness long ago. Not just in a testing sign of Jesus divinity in the days in which He fed the five thousand, but you have permanently provided for the needs of your people in Jesus Christ. Grant that we would trust Him and in Him. To the saving of our souls and to Your glory, we ask it in His name. Amen.